Trewithen Introduction

Essay by Martin Postle

Trewithen is a modest country house constructed on Palladian principles during the early to mid-eighteenth century by several generations of the Hawkins family, whose wealth was attained from the legal profession and boosted through investment in local industries, including tin and copper mining. The house, which is located about eight miles east of Truro, contains a collection of around ninety paintings, about half of which are family portraits and the remainder a mixture of subject pictures, landscapes and marine paintings. Although the house and gardens are open to the public on a regular basis, the collection remains relatively unknown and has not hitherto been the focus of any significant scholarly research. The house, which remains in private ownership, belongs to the Galsworthy family, who are descended from the Hawkins family. Michael Galsworthy has collaborated closely with the Paul Mellon Centre in developing the present case study, and has provided generous support in terms of his time and access to the house and its collection. As with other case studies in the present project, one of the main aims is to provide virtual access to the house and its collection, to propose a series of research questions and to open up avenues for further research.

In preparation for research, high-resolution digital photographs of all oil paintings were taken, together with detailed shots of the interior and exterior of the house. First-hand inspection of the paintings was made in the course of several visits to Trewithen in the summer of 2017. The illustrated catalogue of the paintings, together with an introduction to the collection, was compiled by Emily Burns, Martin Postle, and Jonathan Yarker.

As with a number of houses involved in the project, more intensive research has been focused on one particular object, in order to shed new light on the circumstances surrounding its fabrication, meaning and authorship. At Trewithen, Emily Burns has written an ‘in focus’ account of the portrait of Archbishop William Laud, which relates in some way to Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s earlier image of the sitter, although it is clearly not a copy, but a distinct work of art in its own right.

The Dining Room contains some of the most significant family portraits in the collection at Trewithen. Emily Burns’s essay on the Dining Room considers its history and evolution as a focal point for the display of art works in its associated context as a social space dedicated to the lineage and achievements of several generations of the Hawkins family, and other families associated through intermarriage.

Martin Postle’s contribution to the project, aside from writing catalogue entries on paintings in the collection, is an essay on the portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds and his pupil James Northcote of various members of the Mudge family and their circle. These pictures, which were painted in Plymouth from the early 1760s until the early 1800s, are among the most important portraits at Trewithen, and form a vital bridge between the present owners of Trewithen and their Mudge forebears, as well as allowing a greater understanding than we have had hitherto of the close relations between Reynolds, Northcote and the Mudge family.

In order to attain a greater understanding of the role that Trewithen has played in the political, economic and cultural history of Cornwall, and the links that connect the house and family with other estates, Jonathan Yarker has written a substantial essay based on the various achievements and aspirations of the Hawkins family in the eighteenth century.

Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez has written a building history of Trewithen, and an essay on related architectural drawings, using documentary material and plans at Trewithen, documentation at the Cornwall Record Office, Truro, as well as first-hand investigation of the structure of the house and its interiors. In the course of his examination of the building’s fabric, Rodolfo inspected the roof in order to form new conclusions on the development of the building during the mid-eighteenth century. As well as providing an enhanced understanding of the architecture of Trewithen, building history enables us to form a better understanding of the evolution of the interior display spaces.

Collectively, the components of the present research project allow a better understanding than ever before of the art collection at Trewithen, within the context of the history of the house, its architecture and the county in which it is situated. As with other houses featured in the project, it is intended that the strands of research pursued here will attract further scholarly interest and attention, and enhance our knowledge of Trewithen and its art collection.


  • Dr Martin Postle is Deputy Director for Grants and Publications at the Paul Mellon Centre. Between 1998 and 2007 he was Head of British Art to 1900 at Tate. Martin's research and publication interests focus principally on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, including portraiture, landscape and the history of art academies. He has curated exhibitions on a wide range of subjects, including the artist’s model, the Fancy Picture and the art of the garden, as well as monographic exhibitions on Joshua Reynolds, Johan Zoffany, Richard Wilson, Stanley Spencer and George Stubbs. Martin is project leader and commissioning editor of ‘Art & the Country House’, to which he has contributed a number of essays and catalogue entries.


by Martin Postle
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Martin Postle, "Trewithen Introduction", Art and the Country House,